I recently had the opportunity to answer some questions from Our World Today, an alternative, nonprofit media site based in Australia. I’m rather proud of the answers I came up with, so I thought I’d post them here – I’ll follow up with the article/feature/whatever once it’s finished.
in other news, I’m still in Durban for COP 17 but haven’t had the discipline to blog about the conference… I should probably do that soon.
How old are you? What is your job? Have you studied (if so what?)?
I’m 24 years old and I’m a college student in Eugene, Oregon. I was studying journalism but I recently switched my major to environmental studies after realizing that I couldn’t be objective on issues that I really cared about; I needed to be in a field that would allow me to act on my beliefs, not suppress them.
Where did you grow up, what was your childhood/youth like?
I was born in the Philippines but I’ve spent most of my life in Eugene. I had a pretty ho-hum childhood… In high school I was active in various clubs and activities: jazz choir, student government, FBLA, Asian-American youth groups, etc.
When did you get into climate activism? What motivated you?
I wasn’t interested in anything climate-related until I attended PowerShift West 2009 at the University of Oregon. The conference really opened my eyes up to environmental issues affecting people and the planet; it also showed me that activists weren’t as radical as mainstream media made them out to be – they were everyday students, just like me, who were also passionate about doing what they could to save the planet. Following PowerShift West, I joined a newly-formed student group called the Climate Justice League, which gave me the resources and support to grow into a climate activist and leader.
What inspires you to keep going?
I’m constantly inspired by those who are working toward the same goal as I am: a safe, sustainable and just future for people and the planet. It’s so easy to feel discouraged when governments listen to money more than people, or when too-big-to-fail banks and corporations get away with environmental and human rights atrocities, but I believe the best of humanity is in those who are brave enough to stand up to the Goliaths, to the seemingly impossible-to-achieve challenges. I’ve seen it at various regional and national youth gatherings, and I see it now with international youth at COP 17 – the creativity, bravery and solidarity of young people all across the globe simply can’t be matched as a source of inspiration.
What is the most extreme action you have taken? Any arrests etc?
The most extreme action I’ve ever taken was on August 29, 2011, when I was arrested at the White House for peacefully protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. More than 1,250 people were arrested in total for Tar Sands Action, purportedly the largest act of civil disobedience in the history of the climate movement. I drove across the country with the No Tar Sands Caravan, making stops in Utah, Nebraska and West Virginia. I heard stories from people who are on the frontlines battling shale oil extraction, mountaintop removal and the proposed Keystone XL; their struggles made our journey to the White House that much more important. As many demonstrated through their testimonials and arrests at the White House, Tar Sands Action stood for so much more than Keystone XL: it was – and still is – a fight against fracking, MTR and other dirty energy sources and for a clean energy future for America and the rest of the world.
What are some of the most shocking things you have seen in your years of activism?
I think the most shocking things I’ve seen are the stances that government officials (or other people in power) take in response to social movements or peaceful uprisings. All of the protester-police confrontations with the Occupy movement, for example, shake me to my core; I find it unfathomable that, even in a country that prides itself on freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly, government will suppress its own people for the sake of continuing “business as usual.” The only good thing this means, though, is that those in power recognize – and fear – our power to change the system.
What would be your message to world leaders?
My message to world leaders is this: let’s work together. So often the people are pitted against their representatives; this never solves anything. We must have an open, inclusive dialogue in order to create the solutions we desperately need.
I recently learned of this quote (I don’t know who originally said it, but Google says it’s either a Native American or Pennsylvania Dutch saying): We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors – we borrow it from our children. With regards to environmental issues and COP 17, I’d advise world leaders to keep this saying in mind when negotiating international climate treaties and, ultimately, the future of our planet and our people.
What is your goal in life?
It constantly changes, but as of right now my ultimate goal in life is to connect and work with people around the world to solve the environmental issues of our time.
What have you sacrificed for the betterment of others? How far are you willing to go?
I don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed much for the betterment of others – sure, I got arrested at the White House but as an American I fully recognize how privileged I am and how much others suffer because of my country’s industries, cultural and political influences, etc. In order to make amends for these injustices, I’d be willing to sacrifice/take action up to the point of physical injury – but what’s great is that it doesn’t have to go that far. If we all (Americans, people of privilege, etc.) sacrificed just a little, we’d make a huge difference in the world. If we stopped using plastic bags, we wouldn’t have so much litter or a plastic bag gyre in the Pacific Ocean. If we stopped eating meat products and raising livestock, we’d significantly reduce methane emissions and have more grains/corn/etc. to feed people. The best thing anyone can do, in my opinion, is enable others to create changes in their own lives, because collective actions will add up to so much more than just what one person does.
Do you see hope? If so where and why?
I see hope in the Occupy movement, the political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in any political/environmental/human rights movement around the world. I see hope in the people who transcend political and cultural barriers, find common ground and work together to solve pressing issues. I don’t think people realize how hard it can be to fight for what you believe in; when I see people doing that, my heart swells and whatever doubts or discouraging thoughts I have just melt away.
Any other stories or comments?
Systemic change is a slow and challenging process, but it’s necessary to create the just and safe world that I think we all want.